Fund Brains, Not Trains

A commitment to quality education would do more to enhance Florida’s image with the corporate world than a commitment to building choo-choos.



Photo By Scott A. Miller

I don’t get the logic BEHIND building commuter and high-speed rail in Central Florida. Neither would relieve our roads of traffic, but both would gobble up billions of dollars that could make a difference in Florida’s education system.

The state is faced with a $3.6 billion budget gap for 2012, and this time around there is no federal stimulus money to plug it. So what’s first up on Tallahassee’s chopping block? Public education, of course.

Meanwhile, it’s full steam ahead on throwing $1.2 billion into the black hole that will be the Central Florida SunRail commuter train system. And that’s just to get the dang thing built so land developers along he 61-mile rail line will be rolling in dough again, never mind that only a few thousand riders a day will use SunRail.

If such a project in these austere times seems foolhardy, consider the high-speed rail plan that would make Orlando and Tampa a so-called “super-region.” Its price tag is $2.65 billion, with the benevolent federal government willing to cover almost all of the cost if only our new governor, Rick Scott, would say, “Thank you, sir, may I have another?“

Scott wasn’t a fan of the rail plan as a candidate, but that was then. Now that he owes special interests favors for all those $25,000 donations to his inauguration fund, he has to play ball. So this month, expect Scott to come out in favor of the Tampa-Orlando HSR corridor, which conveniently includes a stop at Walt Disney World.

You might say what’s the big deal if the Obama administration wants to pay for almost all of it? It’s not like the money is coming out of our pockets, or so pols like Sen. Bill Nelson and Rep. John Mica would have you believe (the problem is, they really believe it).

The big deal is that we are poised to blow billions in borrowed money to build and operate a 168-mph bullet train system that would actually be less convenient and much, much more expensive to use (a round-trip ticket will cost $60) than driving a car to Tampa, a whopping distance of 85 miles. Build it and you can bet our roads will be in even worse shape because funds will be shifted from road construction—and from education—to rail operation and maintenance.

Hey, I get that we need jobs, and $4 billion, the combined cost of SunRail and the Tamlando HSR line (might as well get used to Tampa getting top billing in our super-region name) would put a lot of engineers and construction workers to work.

But we could put that money into our schools, if only certain politicians would stop sniffing locomotive fumes. A commitment to quality education would do more to enhance Florida’s image with the corporate world than a commitment to building choo-choos.

If we’re going to borrow money from China so taxpayers don’t have to bear the full effect of government spending, we should invest it where there’s potential for it to do the most good. Commuter rail would serve a very small percentage of the local population, and the high-speed line would be of use to even fewer people, like not even 1 percent.

It is much too kind to refer to these projects as boondoggles.

Rail is a dumb move. The smart investment is in building a better education system.

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